Poetry as Experience

By Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

An extract from part one: Two poems by Paul Celan


"The question I have called that of idiom is therefore more exactly that of singularity. We must avoid confusing this with another, relatively secondary derivative question. that of the "readable" and the "unreadable". My question asks not just about the "text", but about the singular experience coming into writing; it asks if, being singular, experience can be written, or if from the moment of writing its very singularity is not forever lost and borne away in one way or another, at origin or en route to destination, by the very fact of language. This could be due to language's impossible intransitivity, or to the desire for meaning, for universality, that animates voices divided by the constraint of a language that is itself, in turn, only one of many. Is there, can there be, a singular experience? A silent experience, absolutely untouched by language, unprompted by even the most slightly articulated discourse? If, impossibly, we can say "yes", if singularity exists or subsists despite all odds (and beyond all empirical considerations, the presence of a witness such as Peter Szondi, for example, or of someone else, who knows), can language possibly take on its burden? And would idiom suffice for the purpose-idiom of course different from the facile "crypting" or refusal to reveal one's point so terribly endemic to the "modern"? These questions pose neither the problem of solipsism nor that of autism, but very probably that of solitude, which Celan experienced to what we must justly call the utmost degree." [......]

Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe: Poetry as Experience

Translated by Andrea Tarnowski

Jacket art by Jean Evans

Stanford University Press 1999

ISBN 0-8047-3427-5 (pbk: alk.paper)


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